Results tagged ‘ New York ’

Centennial Spoiled: Yankees Beat Red Sox

I can’t even begin to imagine what life was like 100 years ago. People my age were getting ready to fight in the First World War, the Titanic sank like a stone to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, and gas cost 7 cents per gallon.

Oh, and Fenway Park opened. And while many things have changed a century later, the home of the Boston Red Sox has not. Fenway has such a rich history and what some people may not know is that the 100-year-old ballpark once belonged to the Red Sox most hated rivals.

That’s right. The Yankees once owned Fenway Park.

When the Yankees signed Babe Ruth, the deal included a $300,000 loan backed by a mortgage on Fenway Park. Ergo, not only did the Yanks receive Boston’s best player, they owned Fenway Park at the time. 

But the Red Sox eventually gained back ownership of their home. And yesterday Boston’s favorite sons honored their ballpark’s centennial with a beautiful pregame ceremony – and to a Yankee fan like myself – an even more beautiful 6-2 loss to the Bronx Bombers…or should I say the New York Highlanders.

A lot to go over here.  First of all…

Pregame Respect

The Red Sox celebrated Fenway’s 100th year with a wonderful ceremony before the game. Countless players from the days of old were brought back and honored, not unlike the last game at the old Yankee Stadium in September, 2008.

I have to admit, watching it gave me goosebumps. The Red Sox fans are just as passionate and as sentimental about their players (past and present) as the Yankee fans are. The history is another comparable aspect of both teams. Obviously a comparison can be drawn, considering the long and storied existence of the Red Sox and Yankees.

Personally, I got a little teary-eyed when I saw legends Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky in wheelchairs, being wheeled out to the field by recently-retired Red Sox Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek.

Doerr and Pesky mean so much to their franchise, and it was nice to see them get the ovation they did.

It seemed the loudest reaction of the afternoon went to ex-manager Terry Francona. Tito came out and Fenway became unglued. I think the Boston faithful truly miss him, and would rather have a smart leader at the helm of the team (like him) rather than what they have now in Bobby Valentine.

Towards the conclusion of the ceremony, the Red Sox offered (an awkward) toast to the fans and to the ballpark. Longtime Yankee nemesis Pedro Martinez saluted the crowd, then he and Kevin Millar grabbed microphones, and had some words while everyone went bottoms up.

“Who’s Karim Garcia?” Martinez asked, referencing the Game 3 brawl the Red Sox had with the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS.

“One more time,” Millar shouted. “Cowboy up!” – his catchphrase during the ’03 and ‘04 playoffs.

After that bizarre exchange of words, the ceremony ended. And with the Red Sox sporting the uniforms the team wore in 1912 – and the Yankees donning the vintage Highlander outfits, the game began.

Ivan Nova

What can you say about this young stud, other than that he has been the Yankees’ most consistent pitcher thus far. Ivan Nova tossed six strong innings and gave up just two earned runs on seven hits.

He didn’t issue a walk and struck out five batters.

Nova has really done a lot of good for himself, only three starts into this young season. It’s obvious he is locked in and focused; mixing his pitches, attacking batters with his slider, fooling hitters with his curve, and getting them to groundout with that tricky sinkerball.

What’s more, he isn’t killing himself with walks. He’s only issued two free passes this season – and both base-on-balls came in the same game (last Sunday vs. the Angels). He isn’t going out there and beating himself, to say the least.

With the win, Nova has now been the winner in his last 15 decisions, going back to last June – he hasn’t lost since June 3, 2011. His streak is the second-longest in Yankee history, behind Roger Clemens who won 16 consecutive decisions back in 2001.

Now at 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA for the year, Nova will have at least one more start this month (Wednesday April 25 @ Texas). If he manages to beat the Rangers, who are one of the hottest teams on the planet right now, I think it’ll be safe to say Nova is undoubtedly going to go on to have a wonderful year; possibly a Cy Young Award candidate when it’s all said and done.

It never hurts a pitcher to get off to a great start.

Long Ball

Derek Jeter reached base on an error by Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia in the top of the first; as a matter of fact, “Luis Castillo” trended on Twitter because of the miscue. Alex Rodriguez came up later in the frame, smacking a single to bring Jeter to the plate.

But from that point on, it was a home run derby, Highlander-style.

Nick Swisher took Boston starter Clay Buchholz deep in the second inning, an opposite field homer over the Green Monster. Later in the frame Eric Chavez took Buchholz’s offering over the centerfield wall.

And he wasn’t done.

Chavez homered in his next at-bat, another shot that just cleared the wall in center. It marked the first time since Sept. 18, 2005 that Chavez smacked two home runs out of Fenway Park. He previously accomplished the feat as a member of the Oakland A’s.

After Chavez’s homer barrage ended, it was Rodriguez’s turn. A-Rod absolutely slaughtered a ball over the Green Monster, out of the park and onto Landsdowne Street. It marked Rodriguez’s 631st career homer, and with it he passed his old teammate Ken Griffey, Jr. on baseball’s all-time home runs list.

A-Rod is now in fifth place on the all-time homers list. In front of him? Now, only Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds.

You’d think that would be enough taters for one day, but it wasn’t.

In the top of the sixth, Russell Martin got a hold of one, smacking a home run over the monster and hitting the Sports Authority billboard. It was Martin’s first home run of the year, and it was all the Yankees needed to beat Boston.

What surprised me the most was that each home run the Yankees hit today was a solo home run; not one runner was on base when each hitter went yard.

Buchholz gave up all five solo blasts – and it wasn’t the first time this year a Boston starter surrendered five round-trippers in a single game. Josh Beckett gave up five home runs to the Detroit Tigers on April 7.

It’s encouraging to see the Yanks hit some bombs, but there’s an old saying about “living by the home run and dying by the home run.” They cannot be reliant on the long ball all year, but I suppose if you get an exemplary start, as Nova gave them today, it doesn’t matter.

Overall

This was a big win for the Highlanders…Yankees today. Beating the Red Sox the day they celebrated their ballpark’s centennial: that’s huge.  

Imagine if the Yankees had hosted the Red Sox instead of the Baltimore Orioles in the final game at the old Yankee Stadium – and the Red Sox had beaten them. What kind of feeling would every Yankee fan have had?

Probably a very sick feeling. And that’s probably the feeling the Boston fans had today. As for the Yankee fans…it’s just another reason to gloat; another notch in our belts.

It was a major battle won for the pinstripe patrol, but the war is far from over. In fact, the soldiers will be right back out on the battlefield today at 4:00.

Freddy Garcia (0-1, 6.97 ERA) will lead the Yankees into battle, facing off with Boston starter Felix Doubront (0-0, 5.40 ERA).

Another Evening with Bernie

At work yesterday, my editor (also a photographer) decided it would be funny to take a shot of me sitting courtside next to a certain person. He e-mailed it to me, calling it a “souvenir” from the game he sent me to cover.

Although I look like the Angry Video Game Nerd in the photo, I’m happy he took it.

On Feb. 7 I had the honor of meeting Yankee legend Bernie Williams, covering his daughter Bea’s basketball game. Bea’s team made the playoffs and I was once again assigned to cover her team yesterday evening. Just being able to shake Bernie’s hand and the fact that he signed an autograph for me was enough of a memory to last me the rest of my life.

But it got even better. More good times. More great memories.

I hit some traffic on the way to the game, but got to Byram Hills High School in Armonk, N.Y. and sat down literally right before the girls tipped off. Bea gained possession of the ball, drove to the hoop on a fast break, and banked in the first basket of the game.

Maybe a minute later, Bernie walked in, and I was the first person he noticed. He smiled at me, reached out to shake my hand, and said,

“Hey! How’s it going? Good to see you again.”

I shook his hand and answered, “Good! Nice to see you again, too.”

Bernie took the seat right next to me. He leaned over to me and said, “This is going to be a tough game for them.” I replied, “Yeah, the playoffs are always tough.” He gave me nod and a look expressing agreement.

I mean, Bernie would know a lot about postseason play. In 12 out of his 16 seasons with the Yankees he was playing in October. He would know about playoff difficulty better than anyone.

Bea’s team fell behind 12-7 late in the first quarter, and the coach called a full timeout. While the teams were in the huddle, Bernie leaned over to me again and kind of tapped me on the shoulder.

“So really, how’ve you been? Everything good?”

I tried to mask my amazement. As I described when I first met him, I felt just like Max Kellerman in “Rocky Balboa.” I grew up watching him belt home runs at Yankee Stadium, and afford me and the rest of the Yankee fans wonderful memories. Now he’s asking me how I’m doing?!

In the words of Kellerman I wanted to scream, “This is unbelievable! I’m a fan, I can’t help it!”

But I couldn’t express it. I had to show him I’m normal person, not just another Yankee fanatic.

Calm, cool, and collectively I answered, “Yep. Everything’s good. I hit a little bit of traffic getting here, but walked in right before tipoff.  Bea actually had the first basket of the game, right before you came in.”

Bernie chuckled, and then gazed at his daughter. I could just tell by the look in his eyes how proud he was of her. It’s funny, because I bet when she was younger, watching him patrol centerfield at Yankee Stadium, she had the same, spirited look.

As it happened, Bea’s team rallied from behind to win, 48-46. They were trailing 34-27 after the third quarter and staged a come-from-behind victory, outscoring the other team 21-12 in the fourth. Bea led her team with 19 points, and bucketed three shots from beyond the 3-point arc.

Afterward I caught up with her and interviewed her about her outstanding performance. She was so happy that her team won – not only because she didn’t want her team to be eliminated from playoff contention, but to keep her High School basketball career alive.

Bea is a senior, and it’s never fun to be playing that last game.

I pretty much burst out laughing at what Bea’s mom (and obviously Bernie’s wife) said to me right before I conducted my postgame interview. She got behind her daughter and teased her with a big smile on her face, saying,

“It’s all her mother! She gets everything from me!”

All three of us just started to laugh. I thought it was classic; such a “mom” thing to do and say.

After I was done interviewing Bea, I offered my praise and let her know Bernie looked incredibly honored watching her play.

“Congratulations on the win Bea,” I remarked. “I was sitting next to your dad and he looked very proud.”

She thanked me with an ear-to-ear smile.

I know I said it last time, but I have to say it again: I feel extremely lucky to be doing what I’m doing as far was my job is concerned. Not many die-hard Yankee fans can say they get to go to work and sit next to a Yankee legend – and then get to write about it.

This is just another memory I’ll carry with me forever, and I’ll never forget.

Later on, Mike D’Antoni’s son (who I believe I mentioned before) played in the second game I covered. Obviously his father wasn’t in attendance, as the Knicks and their new phenom Jeremy Lin dropped their game at Madison Square Garden to the New Orleans Hornets, losing 89-84, thus ending their seven-game “Linning” streak.

If you’re wondering, D’Antoni’s son’s team also lost, 53-40, eliminating them from the High School postseason. Mike, Jr. is…well…a junior, however. He still has another year to win a basketball championship.

As for Bea’s team, I hope they keep winning and go all the way to win the Gold Ball in the Section 1, Class A finals. For as nice as the Williams family has been to me the two times I covered her team, she deserves to win.

Hot Flashes

Every so often a player will come along in any sport, and set the world on fire. Big plays, clutch performances and wild finishes typically define these players, as they become the talk of the town upon emerging.

The latest player to set the world ablaze: New York Knicks’ point guard Jeremy Lin.

The 23-year-old phenom is a classic feel-good story. Lin was a nobody; just days away from being cut. When the Knicks were scuffling he was given a chance to play – and it’s safe to say he made the most of that opportunity.

Among some of his accomplishments, “Super Lin-tendo” outscored basketball god Kobe Bryant on Friday, netted the game-winning 3-point field goal vs. the Toronto Raptors last night, was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, and became the first player in NBA history to score at least 20 points and record seven assists through his first four starts.

“Linsanity” has swept the nation. Even I have caught the fever. I bought this the other day:

Lin is on a roll, but keep in mind, he has only dominated a small number of games – six to be exact. He has certainly shown what he can do, seeing as how the Knicks are undefeated in the so-called “Lin Era.” The question has to be raised however:

Will Lin be a mainstay or just a flash in the pan?

After last night’s dramatics, Lin has me sold. I truly feel he will be a great player for a long time, as he has demonstrated remarkable ability to elevate his team. The Knicks were getting their faces rubbed in the dirt. Lin came along, picked them up, dusted them off, and made them relevant again.

This whole “Lin-credible” craze got me thinking about the Yankees: which Bombers came out of nowhere, made an immediate impact, and lifted the team?

Here are a few names that came to mind…

Kevin Maas

Never heard of Kevin Maas? Neither did I, until I began my research for this blog entry.

According to what I read, Maas was a first baseman who played for the Yankees from 1990-93. He crushed 10 homers in just 77 at-bats and finished his first season with 24 homers, playing in only 79 games.

A lot of people even went as far as saying Maas was going to be Don Mattingly’s heir.

But it all declined for him. His numbers slowly but surely decreased as the time passed. Despite clubbing 23 homers in ’91, he hit just .220 in 148 games. He only hit 11 homers the following year and nine the year after.

Maas eventually went to the Minnesota Twins in 1995 and was cut after only 22 games. I suppose he will just remain an anomaly; a one-hit wonder who set the baseball world aglow literally right before I started following the Yankees.

I’m actually very surprised I didn’t know about him until today.

Shane Spencer

In September of 1998, a 26-year-old outfielder who tore apart the minor leagues was called up to the show. Shane Spencer, who in 1997 hit 30 homers and knocked in 86 runs for the Columbus Clippers (the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate at the time), took New York by storm.

Unexpectedly, Spencer smacked 10 home runs in the month of September, in only 67 at-bats. Of those 10 homers, three of them came with the bases loaded. A lot of the veteran Yankee players and fans were right behind Spencer, on the edge of their seats every time he stepped up to the plate.

Much like the barrage of Lin nicknames, fans in the crowd held signs that read,

“Shane Brings da Pain!” Not to mention even the Sports Illustrated recognized his outburst.

Unfortunately for Spencer, in a lot of ways, he was just a one-hit wonder. Aside from his spectacular “September to Remember” he didn’t accomplish much else of note, save for a few accolades. Spencer did collect three World Series rings, being with the Yanks from ’98-00, and hit two home runs in the ‘98 ALDS vs. Texas.

He also smacked a home run in the 2001 Fall Classic vs. Arizona, while only securing a .222 batting average in eight postseason series.

It’s kind of sad what happened to him after the hype vanished. Spencer got in some off-the-field trouble for drunk driving and reports surfaced that he had problems with the Florida police around Spring Training, 2004.

Nevertheless, his late-season spark of the ‘98 Yankees may never be forgotten by the most devout pinstripe faithful.

Aaron Small

In 2005 the Yankees were coming off arguably the worst time in their franchise history. The 2004 Boston Red Sox rallied back from an 0-3 ALCS deficit to not only beat them, but also embarrass them.

Boston made history. The Yankees became history.

The following season however, the Bombers re-tooled by signing the overpowering southpaw Randy Johnson, as a lack of solid starting pitching was cited as their 2004 playoff downfall.

But the Big Unit couldn’t do it all by himself.  Other starters had to step up.

Cue Aaron Small, a 34-year-old right-handed journeyman. Small had stints with six other ball clubs before finding his way to the Bronx. He emerged at just the right time, filling a hole in an injury-ravaged starting rotation. He made his first start on July 20, 2005, beating the Texas Rangers.

Small would go on to win 10 games in 2005 – without ever losing. In fact, he became the first Yankee to win his first nine decisions since Tommy John (1979) and just the fourth player in MLB history to win 10 games without recording a loss.

He turned Yankee Stadium into “Smallville,” I guess you could say.

The Yankees began the ’05 season with a lopsided 11-19 record through their first 30 games. Considering where they were, it’s not crazy to say Small played a huge role in terms of getting his team back into the playoff hunt.

Much like Spencer, Small’s success didn’t last. He recorded the loss in Game 3 of the 2005 ALDS vs. the Los Angeles Angels, and went on to go 0-3 in three starts for the Yanks in 2006. Small was designated for assignment on June 17, 2006 and signed a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners prior to the 2007 season.

He was released by the Mariners in May and shortly after called it a career.

Small’s contribution in ’05 was remembered by the Yankee brass, as he has been honored at two Old Timer’s Days (2008, 2011). Before his appearance at Old Timer’s Day ’08, Small won a battle with encephalitis, which had put him in a coma for eight days.

To me, Small will always be remembered as a winner; a player who stepped up when everyone else was struggling. If you ask me, by no means is that a bad way to be remembered.

Shawn Chacon

Much like Small, Shawn Chacon emerged at the right time. The Yanks’ starting rotation in ‘05 was in disarray and the starters needed to step it up. The 28-year-old righty was having a rough go of it in Colorado, going 1-7 for the Rockies before being dealt to the Yanks for minor leaguers Ramon Ramirez and Eduardo Sierra.

He came to the Yankees with low expectations, but went above and beyond what anyone could have hoped for. Right from the get-go Chacon made a splash, tossing six innings without surrendering a run to the Angels in his first start in pinstripes. Although he didn’t get the decision, the Yanks beat the Halos behind Chacon, 8-7.

Chacon ended 2005 with a 7-3 record for New York while notching a 2.85 ERA. He also picked up Small, winning Game 4 of the ALDS vs. the Angels. The Yanks went on to lose the ALDS, yet many baseball analysts felt Chacon was going to continue to pitch well in 2006, and become a key member of the Yankee rotation.

Not so much.

He started ’06 off slowly, though he began to pick up the pace in late April. Chacon started the infamous “Crazy Tuesday vs. Texas” game, giving up seven runs to the Rangers – a game Jorge Posada eventually won in dramatic fashion for New York. He eventually landed himself on the disabled list, and after a brutal game vs. the Cleveland Indians on July 4, was sent to the bullpen.

By the 2006 trade deadline Chacon was swapped for Pirates’ left-handed bat Craig Wilson, thus ending his Yankee tenure. He was last seen pitching for the Houston Astros in 2008 and to my knowledge is not currently signed by any MLB team.

My best memory of Chacon actually came in virtual reality. I was throwing a perfect game with him in MLB 2006 for PlayStation 2. It didn’t end well. You can read more about that sad story here, if you’d like.

Shelley Duncan

The 2007 baseball season was mostly known for one thing: the unrealistic, clutch season that belonged to third baseman Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod put the Yankee team on his back and carried them to win after win, hitting unfathomably long home runs that would have probably left Mickey Mantle in disbelief.

But midway through the year a career minor leaguer came up by the name of Shelley Duncan. At the time his father Dave was the pitching coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. His brother Chris was an outfielder, also with the Cards.

A second generation player, Duncan was called to the show on July 20, 2007 and ignited the Yankees. In his first game, he recorded his first hit and his first RBI against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The next day he crushed his first home run, and then followed with a multi-home run performance the day after.

Duncan became such a fan-favorite for his enthusiasm. He would give hard high-fives to his teammates and even injured clubhouse reporter Kim Jones, smacking her hand as hard as he could in celebration of a Yankee win during a postgame interview.

A website even surfaced: Shelley Duncan Facts, a play off the famous “Chuck Norris Facts” site.

At the end of ’07, Duncan had 19 hits in 34 at-bats, including seven home runs on his ledger. He registered 17 RBIs while securing a .257 batting average and an on-base percentage of .329.

Did “Duncan-Mania” survive? No, it didn’t.

In 2008 Duncan had just one homer in 57 at-bats for the Yanks and batted a measly .175 through 23 games. He was reassigned to the minors and never really became what the Yankees might have hoped for; never made the same amount of noise he made throughout the second half of 2007.

Before 2010 Duncan signed with the Cleveland Indians, where he is today.

Joba Chamberlain

Unlike the other players on the list, Joba Chamberlain still has a chance to shed his status as a flash in the pan. The 26-year-old right-handed hurler has life left in him, but only time will tell if he can go back to what he was when he was first called up.

Go back to August of 2007 for a second. Chamberlain made his MLB debut in a game the Yanks played vs. the Toronto Blue Jays, fanning the first batter he faced. He went on to throw two scoreless frames in a Yankee win.

But the brass didn’t want to ruin his arm at such a young age. Being only 22 years old at the time, the Yankees put him on the “Joba Rules” – a system which didn’t allow Chamberlain to pitch on consecutive days, and if he pitched in multiple innings, he would have that many days off.

For example, if he tossed two innings, he wouldn’t be available pitch again for another two days.

Chamberlain finished the ’07 regular season with a tiny ERA of 0.38 out of the ‘pen, getting all of the Yankee fans behind him. Whenever he raced in from the bullpen, the crowd would go absolutely bananas.

And he was just as fired up.

After every strikeout, Chamberlain would aggressively pump his fists, charged up by the emotion of the moment. Unfortunately he was the victim of a vicious attack by midges in Cleveland during the ’07 ALDS vs. the Indians, a series the Yanks went on to lose.

From there, it’s extremely difficult to describe what happened to Chamberlain. Under new manager Joe Girardi in 2008, he began the season in a relief role then was made into a starter. He only made one noteworthy start in ’08, a brilliant nine-strikeout performance in Boston, outdueling Josh Beckett in a 1-0 Yankee win.

Not long after that game, Chamberlain injured his shoulder, and was placed on the 15-day DL. When he came back he was a reliever again. His role was just never defined – and it got even more confusing in 2009.

Beginning the season as one of the starting five, the “Joba Rules” were rewritten to accommodate the rotation. Girardi would only pitch Chamberlain for a few innings, and then when applicable, would use him on six days rest. It seemed to disrupt his mental balance, to say the least.

The Yanks thought about demoting him to the minors and leaving him off the postseason roster, but ultimately decided to keep him. During the playoffs he took on the role of reliever yet again, and captured a Game 4 victory over the Phillies in the ‘09 Fall Classic.

A good end to a rather turbulent season.

Since then Chamberlain has not made a start. In 2010 he went 3-4 out of the bullpen with a 4.40 ERA, and opponents hit .429 off him. On a light note, his strikeout total went up, as he K’d 77 batters in 71 2/3 innings pitched.

Despite a 2-0 record with a 2.83 ERA this past year, 2011 marked another setback period for Chamberlain. He was sidelined with a torn ligament in his throwing arm in June, ending his season and forcing him to undergo Tommy John Surgery.

This off-season the Yankees and Chamberlain agreed on a one-year contract worth $1.675 million. With that in mind, this could be his last chance to keep wearing the pinstripes. If he continues to scuffle and his arm problems draw on, I don’t see the Yankees holding onto him beyond 2012.

However, if he can rekindle that spark – the spark he lit in 2007 – he will be fine.

To Chamberlain, I can only say good luck and I hope it works out for him. To the rest of the players on this list, I guess I can only say one thing:

It was fun while it lasted.

That Championship Season

*To all of my football lovers out there: this one is for the Giants. Because we were ALL IN.*

Before Super Bowl XLII in February of 2008, then-Giants’ wide receiver Plaxico Burress predicted his team would beat the Patriots by a score of 21-17. New York wound up beating New England in exciting fashion, 17-14. It may have taken another four years but last night Burress’s prediction finally came to fruition.

In Super Bowl XLVI the Giants beat the Patriots 21-17, in another exhilarating title match.

I can’t really explain why – maybe it’s just God’s way – but whenever the Giants and Patriots meet, the Giants seem to have their number. Two weeks ago I wrote about all the similarities between this year and their last Championship season.

And both Super Bowls proved to be just as comparable.

2007: The Patriots led at halftime, but not by a lot: 7-3.

2011: The Patriots led at halftime, and again, not by much: 10-9.

2007: Eli Manning had the ball on his own 17-yard line, Giants trailing 14-10 with just 2:39 left in the game.

2011: Eli Manning had the ball on his own 12-yard line, Giants trailing 17-15 with just 3:46 left in the game.

2007: On third and five Manning evaded what looked like a sack, threw up a Hail Mary, and miraculously hit David Tyree, who pinned the football up against his helmet for a 32-yard completion and a first down. The catch laid the groundwork for the winning touchdown.

2011: On the first play from scrimmage, Manning found Mario Manningham near the sideline and beating double coverage, hooked up with him for a 38-yard gain, giving the Giants prime field position to set up a score.

2007: Manning hit Burress in the end zone for a TD with just 35 seconds left on the clock. Tom Brady and the Patriots failed to move the ball into field goal range as time ticked down and lost by three points, 17-14.

2011: Ahmad Bradshaw hesitantly ran the ball into the end zone for a TD, leaving Brady and the Pats with only 57 seconds to score a touchdown. And once again, Brady and his receivers failed to move the ball down the field, losing by four points, 21-17.

2007: Manning wins the Super Bowl XLII Most Valuable Player award. He went to Disney World and the Canyon of Heroes – in that order.

2011: Take a guess who won Super Bowl XLVI MVP….Yes. It was Manning again. Today Manning was once again at Mickey Mouse’s home – and tomorrow he’ll be with his teammates in the Canyon of Heroes.

This year truly was, as Yogi Berra would say, déjà vu. Or déjà blue, depending on which way you want to phrase it. New York once again triumphs over New England, and gets the opportunity to celebrate a huge win.

Jubilation in New York. And for the fans in Boston; New England: more heartache.

Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe had it right today when he wrote,

“History Repeats:

Instead of celebrating a grand slam–championships in every major sport over a period of four years and four months–New Englanders are spitting out pieces of their broken luck, bracing for the avalanche of grief from those annoying New Yorkers.”

Yeah, pretty much spot on.

Every fan of the Patriots must be saying “Mario (bleeping) Manningham” right now, the same way four years ago they were undoubtedly saying “David (bleeping) Tyree” – and just like most Red Sox fans in the past have exclaimed, “Bucky (bleeping) Dent” and “Aaron (bleeping) Boone.”

A win like yesterday is the type of victory that can carry New York bragging rights over New England for a long way.

I know as a fan of the Giants, and as a fan who doubted they would go anywhere this season, I was enthralled; fascinated. The familiar feeling of sports joy overcame me. One of my favorite teams won a title and I was so happy I got down on one knee and…I’m not calling it “Tebowing.” In the spirit of the win, I prefer to call it “Manning’ing.”

That’s what I did.

Tom Coughlin, the Giants’ Head Coach, seemed just as happy as I was, seeing as how he was on the hot seat when the Giants scuffled. Coughlin became the oldest Head Coach in the NFL to win a Super Bowl at 65 years. He is also only the second coach to lead the Giants to a Super Bowl win. Bill Parcells was at the helm of the squad for the Giants’ first two Super Bowl victories in 1986 and 1990.

As for Manning…well…

At the outset of the season he called himself an elite quarterback; a top five-caliber manager who deserves to be put on the same level as Brady. The media jumped all over that statement and put Manning under the microscope. When he struggled, they doubted his words.

But now that he has beaten Brady three times in his career – and twice on the worldwide stage – his bold words are now inarguable. Manning is an elite quarterback, and he is as every bit as good as Brady, if not better. He led his team in a total of eight game-winning drives in the fourth quarter this season (including the postseason).

If that isn’t considered clutch, what the heck is?

And now, if anyone tries to call out Manning; say he isn’t one of the best QBs in the league, their point will be invalid. The proof of his greatness lies in his stat columns and the number of Super Bowl rings on his fingers.

No more Manning-bashing.

The Giants became only the fifth team in NFL history to win four or more Super Bowls. The Pittsburgh Steelers own six titles, the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers both have five. The Green Bay Packers have four, and now, so does the so-called “Big Blue Wrecking Crew.”

That’s right. The Steelers have the most Super Bowl titles in history with six. Football certainly is a different game than baseball as far as the Championship goes, looking at the 27 World Series titles the Yankees have.

And speaking of the Yankees, Spring Training will be starting shortly. Pretty soon camp will start and before we know it camp will break, bringing the 2012 MLB season. Now that football season has come to a dramatic and happy ending, baseball is soon to begin.

And while we wait, we can enjoy yet another New York Championship.

Déjà Blue

Editor’s note: I know this blog is basically reserved for baseball highlights, personal Yankee-related stories, and analysis of the Yankees, but given the circumstances surrounding yesterday night’s game, I made an exception to write about my favorite football team, the New York Giants.

I spent Yesterday night in the same place I spent Game One of the 2011-12 NFL season on Sept. 11 – at my best friend’s house watching the New York Giants.

The Giants played the Washington Redskins in Week 1, and didn’t look very good coming out of the gate. Sometime during the first half of the game, Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning was under heavy pressure, he scrambled, and ran the ball into the end zone for a touchdown.

I jumped out of my seat and yelled out in sarcasm,

“Rushing touchdown for Eli Manning! Hey, this might be a good year after all.”

After getting laughed at by my friends and hearing from certain people how “The Buffalo Bill” (yes, the Buffalo Bill, not the Buffalo Bills) were the “only New York team” (inside joke, being that the Giants and Jets play their home games in New Jersey) the Giants went on to lose 28-14 to the typically bad Redskins.

Yet, my skepticism didn’t start during their first game. I was incredibly skeptical before the season even started. The so-called “Big Blue Wrecking Crew” allowed a number of their players to walk away, losing them to free agency. I thought for sure it would be another season in which the Jets – the other New York team – would overshadow them on the back pages of the newspapers.

The Jets had been to the last two AFC title games and came dangerously close to winning them both times, nearly punching their ticket to the Super Bowl. Not to mention the Jets added former Giant hero Plaxico Burress, who caught the game-winning TD in Super Bowl XLII to beat the 18-0 New England Patriots.

We all remember that happy story, right? I thought so.

Knowing the Giants were playing the Jets on Christmas Eve when the NFL schedule broke, I called and text messaged some of my friends who are Jets fans saying, “Congrats on the win on Christmas Eve. The Giants are going to have a horrible year.”

My faith in the team was just nonexistent.

However, it picked up a little bit as the season progressed, and the G-Men got on a little bit of a roll. They sort of came together, going 6-2 after eight weeks. The Giants began playing smash-mouth football, and most importantly they got healthy.

A number of their key players on the defensive end and their secondary were hurt, rendering them vulnerable to teams that weren’t necessarily stronger, but dictated games a lot better.

Case in point: their game vs. the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 9.

The Giants were certainly playing like the better team, but a few miscues on defense and a big mistake on offense – a fourth quarter interception by Manning – cost Big Blue the game.

Still, they were able to hang with teams, stay in the playoff race, and they obviously got healthy and red-hot at the right time. And it all started with, believe it or not, their game against the Jets.

Manning began a 29-14 rout of the Green Team with a 99-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Victor Cruz, who seemingly came out of nowhere to become one of the Giants’ top offensive weapons – and one of the league’s top receivers. The 99-yarder tied an NFL record, and his 89 yards after the catch is the most by a receiver on a 99-yard TD.

Not bad for a player who went undrafted.

Needless to say I was extremely happy the Giants beat the Jets and I learned a valuable lesson from that game: never lose faith in your team. Always have faith and always believe in them, even when it’s hard to and it looks as though defeat is imminent.

For a fan who congratulated fans of the other team months before the game even took place, and to have my team win – and win by a lot – was certainly humbling, to say the very least.

From there the G-Men just got on a win streak: a 31-14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys to get into the playoff dance, a 24-2 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Wild Card weekend, a 37-20 spanking of the heavily favored, 15-1 Green Bay Packers, and finally a 20-17 overtime win over the San Francisco 49ers.

And now we’re back to where we were in 2008: Giants vs. Patriots in the Super Bowl.

As Yogi Berra would say, “It’s déjà vu, all over again!”

There are so many eerie similarities between this season and the 2007-08 campaign in which the Giants defeated the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Let me count the ways…

2007: The Giants lost their first two games, but eventually caught fire and held a 6-2 record after eight games.

2011: The Giants lost their first game and became a bit streaky, yet held a 6-2 record after eight games.

2007: Up against tough odds, the G-Men played an undefeated 15-0 Patriots team on the last day of the regular season. Big Blue hung step-for-step with the Pats, but wound up losing 38-35.

2011: Again, up against unfavorable odds, the Giants played the defending champion Packers, who were 12-0 heading into their game vs. New York in Week 13. The G-Men kept themselves in it, and looked to be clicking on all cylinders. However, some sloppy defense at the tail end of the game led to a loss, 38-35.

2007: On the road, the Giants won 10 straight games – and if you include the Super Bowl, 11 wins in a row away from the Meadowlands.

2011: The Giants are currently on a four-game win streak on the road – and they will be the away team in the upcoming Super Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 5.

2007: In the NFC Championship Game on the “Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field,” the Giants and Packers played to a 20-20 tie in subzero temperatures. In overtime, a key turnover by Brett Favre (an interception, which was picked off by cornerback Corey Webster) set up a field goal for the Giants. Kicker Lawrence Tynes, from 47 yards out, booted Big Blue into the Super Bowl.

2011: In the NFC Championship Game at a wet and soggy Candlestick Park in San Francisco, the Giants and 49ers played to a 17-17 tie after regulation, forcing the title game into overtime. Niners’ punt return specialist Kyle Williams was stripped of the ball by New York linebacker Jacquian Williams. The fumble was recovered by Giants’ wide receiver/specialist Devin Thomas, a costly turnover. The play set up a 31-yard field goal – which was made by Tynes to send New York to the Super Bowl.

2007: The Patriots beat the San Diego Chargers in the AFC title game, only to lose to the Giants in the Super Bowl.

2011: The Patriots beat the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC title game, and will once again play the Giants in the Super Bowl.

It’s pretty incredible how many parallels can be drawn between this year and the magical championship run the Giants put together a few years ago. I never thought when I was sarcastically saying “this could be a good year after all” and when I was giving the Jets the win over the Giants months before the game that the G-Men would be where they are now.

After the big win over the 49ers, Giants’ safety Antrel Rolle said, “No one gave us a shot.”

Yes sir. I will admit I was guilty of that, even as a loyal fan.

 Yet Rolle even admitted that at times throughout the season, the team didn’t even give themselves a shot – so maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself as far as my wavering faith in the G-Men.

I went into this NFL season as a fan with the lowest of expectations. The Giants just by making the postseason proved me wrong. And now as NFC Champs, going to their fifth Super Bowl in franchise history, have gone above and beyond anything I ever expected out of them this year.

There might not be as much pressure on the Giants, being that New England isn’t playing for an undefeated season this time around. The Giants had to win Super Bowl XLII, otherwise they would always be remembered as “that fluke Super Bowl team who the Patriots beat to go 19-0.”

Instead they became “that pesky, resilient team who stopped the Patriots from going 19-0, and embarrassed them in front of the world.”

As far as the rematch goes, I don’t know what to anticipate; I have no idea what to expect. But if history has shown us anything, things look good for the New York Football Giants. It’s bound to be another good game; one the world will undoubtedly be watching.

Think of Yankees vs. Red Sox in Game 7 of the ALCS – that’s the type of feel this game is bound to possess.

No matter what happens in Super Bowl XLVI, I am proud of the Giants. They turned a season in which I expected nothing into a season that could very well be something special.

A Talk With Bernie?

On Thursday night I was working, covering some high school hockey here in upper Westchester, New York. My job doesn’t require me to take photos of the athletes I’m covering, so usually my editor (who is also a photographer) will show up at the games and shoot the players for pictures.

In between periods during the hockey game I received some really interesting news.

My editor was giving me some background information on the game I covered last night, which happened to be a boy’s basketball game. After he let me know what to watch out for at the boy’s hoops game, he looked at me and said,

“I should be sending you to the Byram Hills/Fox Lane girls’ basketball game. Bernie Williams might be there.”

Uh…what?!

“His daughter Beatriz is a senior and plays on the Byram Hills team, and he attends a lot of her games,” he continued. “She’s pretty good; she got her 1,000th point the other night.”

I had no idea Bernie’s daughter plays on one of the teams my newspaper covers – and I didn’t know she was that good! 1,000 points in a high school career is quite impressive.

The news got even better when my editor explained to me that Bernie is very approachable at these games. In fact, one of the other reporters working for our paper met him at a game last year and has interviewed him already.

I was then told I could ask him for an interview as well, and maybe write a feature story on him and Bea. I can’t think of anything more amazing than writing a story on one of my favorite Yankees; a player I grew up with and might have the chance to interview.

Not to mention it would put Yankee Yapping over the top! If I can get this interview, I will undoubtedly write about the experience here. Maybe it would put Yankee Yapping into the category of elite internet Yankee blogs?

Perhaps.

In any event, according to the local schedule, the Byram Hills girls play their next game on Friday Feb. 3 at home – most of the teams are off next week because of high school midterms. I remember those, and no, I do not miss them.

My editor is probably going to send me to that game, and that could very well be the night I get to talk to and possibly interview (or set up an interview with) Yankee legend Bernie Williams. I don’t want to get my hopes up if for some reason it doesn’t work out, but nonetheless I think it’s pretty cool his daughter is on one of the teams I’ll be covering.

Just getting the chance to shake Bernie’s hand and maybe getting to talk to him for a minute will be enough for me. He has always been and will always be one of my favorite Yankees, ever.

And speaking of communicating with Yankees, I was on Twitter this afternoon and noticed Joba Chamberlain tweeting about the New York Rangers vs. Boston Bruins game. I decided to switch over to the hockey game and attempted to tweet with the Yankee hurler.

Eventually I got Chamberlain to re-tweet me about the action. The Rangers were supposed to be going on a power play, and I asked him if he thought the Blueshirts could convert. But right after I tweeted the question, the referees reversed their decision and didn’t call a penalty.

“4-4. No PP.”

I can now put Chamberlain with Russell Martin on the list of Yankees who have replied to my tweets. Remember, if you want to follow me on Twitter, my handle is @AJ_Martelli.

Baseball Business on the Big Screen: A Review of “Moneyball”

Peter Brand:  It’s only been a few days. You have to give yourself some time to get over it.

Billy Beane:  I don’t get over these things. Ever.

After nearly beating the god-like New York Yankees in the 2001 American League Division Series, all hope seems to be lost for Oakland Athletics’ General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). He loses three of his key players to free agency – Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen – and is forced to rebuild the A’s.

Beane travels to Cleveland to discuss potential trades with the Indians’ General Manager when he discovers Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Brand is a player analyst whose opinion is valued by the Cleveland brass. Beane recognizes that and instead of gaining a player, buys Brand from the Indians and hires him as the assistant GM.

Together Beane and Brand use a philosophy no other team had ever utilized: signing players who are not necessarily power hitters, players who hit for average or players who rack up a great number of RBIs, but possess the ability to get on base.

They sign players who are on the downside of their careers, like David Justice, Jeremy Giambi, and Scott Hatteberg. Each of these players lack many of the tools needed to play the game, but have one thing in common: high on-base percentages.

Beane’s logic is simple: it doesn’t matter how you get on base. If you get on base, you’ll score runs. The strategy doesn’t sit too well with manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the two clash, disagreeing about necessary decisions such as who is in the lineup.

Although Oakland started the ’02 season slow, they eventually won 20 games in a row, setting an American League record for most consecutive wins in a single season.

The A’s overcome the odds and make the postseason, but get bumped in the first round for the second year in a row, this time by the Minnesota Twins. In the midst of the early playoff exit, the Red Sox recognize what Beane did in terms of building his team. Boston owner John Henry offers Beane a contract to be the highest paid General Manager in baseball history, which he declines.

Instead of going to the Red Sox, Beane opts to remain with the A’s, only for the Red Sox to win the World Series two years after he turned them down –  winning it all by using the philosophy Beane instituted in Oakland.

There are a few unique baseball movies out there, but “Moneyball” just might be the most unique. Based on a true story, it isn’t a coming of age flick like “The Sandlot” or a one last chance tale like “The Rookie.”

“Moneyball” is a movie that presents and exposes the business side of the game of baseball – a side of the game that isn’t always transparent to the average fan.

Right from the start of the movie you are taken into the corporate side of baseball when Beane goes to Cleveland to try and make immediate off-season moves. It really shows you how fast things happen when a baseball team’s season ends. Most people might get the impression that once the season is over the next time the team is worrying about anything is Spring Training.

That notion is quickly proved wrong right at the start of the movie.

Beane’s assistant Brand is based off Paul DePodesta, a savvy baseball expert who studied the game in and out and served as a catalyst in terms of changing the team. He enforced and supported building the A’s team by way of sabermetrics, which is defined as a system of analyzing baseball players by empirical evidence and specific in-game activity.

Bill James, a baseball writer and statistician, was “the man behind the curtain” so-to-speak, as he devised this crazy concept of sabermetrics. In fact, James wrote the book from which the movie is adapted. His ideas were was embraced by the Oakland General Manager. Beane knew exactly what he was hoping to accomplish and it shows throughout the movie.

One of the best and most relatable scenes in the movie to me was the scene that portrayed Brand breaking some potentially unsettling news to Carlos Pena. Beane had told his assistant that he might have to tell players they are cut or traded, as it comes with the job; a classic case of a boss making his employee do some not-so-fun work.

Ultimately Brand had to inform Pena that he had been traded to the Detroit Tigers.

Right as that scene concluded, I immediately thought of my internship with the Hudson Valley Renegades, a Single-A team affiliated with the Tampa Bay Rays. I interned for them over the summer of 2010 and at times they would ask the interns to do some bizarre things.

One night the Renegades were playing the Jamestown Jammers, whose parent club is the Miami Marlins. One of the Jammers had been cut that day, but was still at the Stadium. He needed to be driven to the airport and they selected an intern (it wasn’t me) to give him a ride.

I saw a little bit of a parallel between the scene in the movie and the instance from my internship.

Something else I found interesting was the scene portraying the acquisition of reliever Ricardo Rincon. At the beginning of the movie when Beane is in Cleveland, he inquires about Rincon and expresses a sheer amount of interest in him. At the trade deadline the Indians are out of the playoff running. With the A’s still in contention and in need of a reliever, Beane gives the Tribe a call.

Cleveland refused to budge on a swap for Rincon citing interest from other teams, so Beane takes matters into his own hands. He orchestrates a ploy with some of the other General Managers and in the end lands the deal and acquires Rincon.

If I could take one still frame from the entire movie, it would be Brand’s reaction after he and Beane pulled off the trade. He looked like a little kid at Christmas, getting exactly what his heart desired.

What I also liked was how they threw in the little back story about Beane’s career as a player. He was drafted by the New York Mets out of high school, and instead of going to Stanford to play baseball on a full-ride scholarship he chose to sign with the Mets.

And it didn’t go well for Beane. At all.

His career was a flop and it kind of goes back to the idea of whether it’s smart to play in college or go right to the pros upon getting drafted. I’ve always had more respect for the ones that play in college. I feel you have a better chance at maturing as a player and as a person.

It certainly worked out for someone like Tino Martinez, who was drafted out of high school by the Red Sox, yet turned them down to play for the University of Tampa. He was drafted again by Seattle and eventually had a wonderful career.

At any rate, there are a few things I noticed while watching “Moneyball” that I was sort of able to nitpick at; things that didn’t make the movie any less enjoyable, but once I noticed them I picked them out.

For one, in the Ricardo Rincon trade scene, Brand is wearing an all-green Oakland A’s hat. The all-green hats, complete with black underneath the bill, weren’t introduced until 2007 when New Era released the polyester headwear to reduce sun glare. Up until then, grey was the color underneath the bill of the hat.

I only knew that because when the polyester caps were released (it should come as no shock) I purchased a Yankee hat.

In addition to the hat anachronism, the scene which portrays Beane at Fenway speaking to Henry caught my eye. Boston’s 2004 and 2007 championship banners are visible. The movie is taking place at the conclusion on the 2002 season, so the flags representing Boston’s titles shouldn’t be there.

At first I thought I had spotted another mistake, but as it turns out the director (Bennett Miller) got it right.

The scene in which the A’s were gunning for their 20th consecutive win, they are shown playing the Kansas City Royals at home. They show Mike Sweeney hit a towering drive to left field, homering to put the Royals within one run; KC eventually tying the game before the A’s picked up the 12-11 win on the power of a walk-off, solo home run off the bat of Hatteberg.

When Sweeney played, he wore a “C” on his jersey, denoting his status at team captain. In the movie Sweeney’s “C” was absent from the breast of his jersey, but it should have been. Upon research, he wasn’t named captain of the Royals until 2003.

I thought I had caught Miller on a mistake, but in the end he got me.

Overall I found “Moneyball” to be a riveting and informative movie. I wish I had seen it sooner than I had, but when it was in theaters last summer most of my friends went and saw it with their girlfriends. Naturally when I wanted to see it and asked my friends to go to the movies, I only heard the words,

“I already saw it with my girlfriend. It was really good, you should go see it.”

Yes, I should have gone to see it when it was in theaters. But I wasn’t going to the movies by myself.

Where’s the fun in that?

The Very Best of Jorge Posada

When Jorge Posada made his Major League Baseball debut on Sept. 4 1995, he got to Yankee Stadium early. The 24-year-old switch-hitting second baseman-turned-catcher walked from the clubhouse down the tunnel to the dugout to soak in what would become his home for the next 17 seasons.

Posada looked around at the majesty of Yankee Stadium. Tears of joy filled his eyes. In the years that followed he afforded the Yankees and their fans countless unforgettable moments, and basically became the Bronx Bombers’ unofficial co-captain.

A leader, a gamer, and one of the most intelligent and fiery Yankees to ever don the pinstripes, Posada, 40, is expected to announce his official retirement from baseball in the coming weeks. The Yankees will lose one of the “Key Three” members of their Championship Dynasty of the late 1990s.

Off the top of my head I can come up with a number of Posada’s best moments as a Yankee. Here are some of his most memorable achievements; a few of his accomplishments that made him such a special Yankee.

Breaking Out and a Perfect Day

Although Posada got the call to the show in 1995, he didn’t become a full-time player until later on in his career. In ’97 he replaced Jim Leyritz as backup catcher to current Yankee manager Joe Girardi, who was filling the position as the Yanks’ everyday backstop.

Posada started 52 games behind the plate in 1997 and played in a total of 60 games for the season. He only managed to smack six homers and knock in 25 runs for the season, but had a sort of “coming out party” in 1998.

An old baseball adage suggests that having a catcher that can hit is a bonus – and the Yankees had that bonus. At the plate Posada crushed 17 homers and batted .268 while recording 68 RBIs in ’98, but arguably his best feat of the year came defensively, on May, 17, 1998 when he caught David Wells’ perfect game at home against the Minnesota Twins.

When a pitcher throws a perfect game, sometimes it gets overlooked that the catcher is the one calling the signs, and most of the time the first person the pitcher credits after notching the perfecto is the catcher. It takes the battery of a pitcher and a catcher to complete a perfect game and Wells recognized that, rewarding Posada and the rest of the team with diamond rings when it was all said and done.

Before the Yanks moved into the new Stadium in 2009, Posada was asked what his favorite moment in the old Yankee Stadium was. His answer was simple.

“Catching David Wells’ perfect game was probably (the best moment) for me. It was just a day that…nothing went wrong. We were in sync from the get-go. He had a bad bullpen session but he got stronger and stronger as the game went along. I get chills, still.”

A Sweet Moment before the ‘02 All-Star Game

Posada and the Yanks capped 1998 with a World Series title, their second in three years. In ’99 he appeared in 112 games and hit 12 homers, knocked in 58 runs, and averaged .245 at the plate. The Yankees once again won a World Series title in ’99 and again in 2000 – which to that point was Posada’s best year numerically: 28 homers, 86 RBIs, and a BA of .287.

For his outstanding numbers he was selected to his first of five All-Star games in the year 2000. In 2002 Posada started the Midsummer Classic and during player introductions a Posada took the field – but it wasn’t Jorge.

Well, it was, actually. Posada’s son Jorge Luis, who has craniosynostosis (a bone condition which affects the skull of an infant), dashed out onto the baseball diamond when Posada’s name was called. The short man was playfully wrangled by Yankee nemesis and then-Red Sox player Manny Ramirez, who presented Jorge Luis to his proud father.

You Talkin’ to Me, Pedro?

Posada pieced together one of his best seasons in 2003, clubbing 30 homers to become only the second Yankee catcher along with Yogi Berra to ever hit 30 home runs in a season.

He also drove in 101 runs, batted .281, and scored 83 runs. At the end of the year he finished third in the American League Most Valuable Player voting, showing just how important he was to his team.

But all of that was basically overshadowed by the biggest rivalry in sports.

In ’03 the Yankees and their archenemies, the Boston Red Sox, played in some heated games. Over the summer Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano were beaned with fastballs by the hated Boston ace Pedro Martinez. Roger Clemens, the Yanks’ outspoken number one hurler, plunked Kevin Millar in retaliation.

As fate would have it, the Yankees and Red Sox met in the 2003 American League Championship Series; the winner would go to the World Series. Both squads were not shy about their feelings towards one another, as they exchanged words in the media. You couldn’t open a newspaper or turn on ESPN without hearing what the Yanks and BoSox were saying about each other.  

The ALCS was tied 1-1 and with tensions running high, all Hell broke loose in Game Three.

Yankees’ right fielder Karim Garcia was hit on the back by what looked like an intentional bean ball thrown by Martinez. Garcia didn’t take kindly to Martinez’s throw – and neither did Posada, who began to mouth off to Martinez from the dugout.

Some serious jaw-jacking ensued between Martinez and Posada, and eventually Martinez began to make seemingly threatening gestures at Posada from the mound. He put his index finger to his temple as if he was saying to the Yankee catcher, “I’ll hit you in the head.”

Things settled down and the game resumed after awhile, only for another fracas to begin in the next half-inning. Clemens threw a pitch high and tight to Ramirez; clearly no intent, yet the Boston left fielder tried to charge the mound and the benches cleared.

Don Zimmer, the Yanks’ 72-year-old bench coach, was tossed to the ground by Martinez in the brawl, proving just how ugly emotions between the two teams really were.

The ’03 ALCS was forced to a Game Seven, and with the Yankees trailing 5-2 in the eighth inning, it looked as though it was Boston’s time to “reverse the curse.”

But after a single by Bernie Williams that scored Derek Jeter, and a ground-rule double by Hideki Matsui, Posada stepped up to the plate in a huge situation: runners on second and third with one out.

And he was as clutch as can be.

Posada popped a blooper into shallow centerfield, a hit which no Boston outfielder or infielder could come up with. Williams and Matsui came to the plate to tie the game while he wound up on second base. Fired up, Posada clapped his hands together and pumped his fists in jubilation.

The game-tying bloop double set up Aaron Boone’s glorious home run in the bottom of the 11th, sending the Yankees to the World Series for the 39th time and the Red Sox home for the winter.

If it weren’t for Posada’s gritty, “never say die” attitude and his piece of late-game clutch hitting, Boone never would have had the chance to swing his bat in the 11th; the Yankees may have been doomed in the ‘03 ALCS.

As far as the Martinez-Posada feud: the two publicly expressed how they felt about one another: they both said they disliked each other.  However aside from the argument in the ’03 ALCS, nothing physical ever transpired between the two.

Unless you count the four career home runs Posada hit off Martinez.

On a side note, over the course of his career Posada hit 275 home runs. The most he smacked off a single pitcher: five off another Red Sox hurler, Tim Wakefield.

A Wild and Crazy Tuesday vs. Texas

On Wednesday May 17, 2006 – exactly eight years after Posada caught Wells’ perfect game – I got up and went to class. Nearing the end of my first year in college, I was amazed at what I had seen the night before. Everyone knew what a huge Yankee fan I was, and when I got to class I was asked the age-old question from one of my classmates:

“Did you see the game last night?!”

Of course I had. It was one of the most improbable and incredible comebacks ever.

On May 16, 2006 the Yankees had been getting creamed by the Texas Rangers at home. In fact, through the first two and a half innings the Bombers were losing 10-1. But they never gave up, slowly chipping away at the deficit. The Yanks were able to knot the game at 12 before the ninth inning, only for Texas to plate a run on a Rod Barajas double and take a 13-12 lead going into the Yanks’ final set of at-bats.

When it looked as though the rally was for naught, Posada clubbed a game-winning two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth off Rangers’ closer Akinori Otsuka to complete the comeback and give the Yankees a serious come-from-behind, 14-13 win.

Posada drove in five of the Yanks’ 14 runs and also showed off his strength, as he survived a collision at home plate with future teammate Mark Teixeira. Posada nailed Teixeira at home plate for an out, but after the game admitted it was the hardest he had ever been hit.

“I never played football in my life,” Posada told the press after the game.

 “But I think that’s what it feels like.”

2007 Resurgence

 

One could argue that by age 35 most catchers are reaching the so-called “downhill side” of their careers. Their offensive numbers seem to dwindle and they just aren’t the same players they were at, let’s say, age 25.

That never happened to the Yankee catcher.

In 2007 Posada recorded the highest batting average of his career, securing a BA of .338. He also posted the highest slugging percentage of his career with .543 and for the first time since 2003 he made the All-Star team.

The rest of his numbers also looked solid: 20 homers, 90 RBIs, 91 runs scored, 42 doubles, and he even stole two bases.

With his ’07 power show he became the first catcher in MLB history to average .330 or better, record at least 40 doubles, hit 20 homers, and knock in at least 90 runs in a single season.

2007 was a renaissance year for the backstop, and you might say Posada turned 35 into the new 25.

Even the Red Sox Want to be Yankees

In a little comic relief, Posada starred in an ESPN commercial with hated Yankee killer David Ortiz.

When I first saw this, I couldn’t get enough of it.

The First Home Run

After the 2008 season wrapped, the Yanks moved from their beloved cathedral to their new house across the street. They started the 2009 season on the road, but on April 16 it was time for Opening Day in the new ballpark in the Bronx vs. the Cleveland Indians – and it was a day of firsts.

Babe Ruth hit the first home run in the old Yankee Stadium, and in the fifth inning Posada became the first player to homer in the new Yankee Stadium. He took a pitch off Cliff Lee deep to centerfield, a poetically just shot that landed in the netting above Ruth’s monument.

Unfortunately the Yanks had a bad day, dropping their first game at home 10-2. After the game Posada was proud to have done what Ruth did in terms of christening the ballpark, but was unhappy with the final score.

“I’m going to remember the home run, no question about it,” he told the press. “But right now it’s a little disappointing.”

Yankee manager Joe Girardi could not have been happier that his successor was the first player to homer in the new Stadium.

“For Jorgie to hit the first home run…he’s been here a long time and he’s meant a lot to this franchise. I was extremely happy for him.”   

2009 Walk-Offs

Resiliency (noun) –  the ability to recover from, or adjust easily to, change or misfortune.

Resilient (adjective) – the ability to withstand, or recover quickly from, difficult conditions.

There is no better way to define the 2009 New York Yankees.

‘09 was a magical season for the Bombers. Solid pitching, all-around hitting, and if the score was close late in the game, you could almost be certain the Yankees were going to win.

The Yanks played the LA Angels at home on May 1, and squandered away a 4-0 lead when the Halos plated six runs in the sixth. They added three in the seventh and it seemed as though the Yankees were well on their way to an inevitable loss to the Angels, the only team in baseball with a lifetime winning record against the Bombers.

Not on Posada’s watch.

The Empire struck back in the eighth scoring four runs, setting the stage for one of their many comeback victories. Posada came up to bat in the bottom of the ninth with Teixeira and Angel Berroa aboard, and whacked a two-run game-winning single to finish the game, his first walk-off hit of the year.

When it was all said and done teammate A.J. Burnett gave Posada a whipped cream pie to the face, a tradition that became custom after every walk-off Yankee victory.

And there were more pie orders to fill.  

On July 4 the Yanks hosted the Toronto Blue Jays and played them to a 5-5 tie into extra innings. In the bottom of the 12th Posada came up and singled home Alex Rodriguez, giving the Yanks a 6-5 walk-off win on America’s (and George Steinbrenner’s) birthday.

Another win, another pie.

The game-winner may have been huge but it wasn’t all Posada did in that game. In the fourth he smacked a solo round-tripper, which at that point in the game gave the Yanks a 3-2 lift over the Jays.

A Cushion in Game Two

The Yankees’ resilient nature brought them to the World Series in 2009 for the 40th time and the first time since 2003. They squared off with the Philadelphia Phillies and in Game Two (after dropping the first game of the Fall Classic) the Bombers needed a win at home.

Facing a familiar adversary, Pedro Martinez, the Yanks trailed 1-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth. Teixeira came up and knotted the game at one with a solo homer. Hideki Matsui followed suit, breaking the tie with a solo home run of his own in the sixth.

Clinging to a small 2-1 lead in the seventh, Posada gave the Yanks a little breathing room. He hit a seeing-eye single off reliever Chan Ho Park to plate Jerry Hairston, Jr. and the Yanks went ahead, 3-1.

They would win Game Two by the same count.

The Texas Two-Step

In June of 2010 Posada had a chance to flex his muscles.

On June 12 in an interleague matchup at home vs. the Houston Astros, he clubbed a grand slam off Wandy Rodriguez in the bottom of the third, breaking a 2-2 tie to give the Yanks a 6-2 lead. They went on to win 9-3 on the strength of Posada’s go-ahead trip to granny’s house.

And he was just getting warmed up.

The very next day, June 13, he crushed another grand slam in the fifth inning off Brian Moehler, giving his team a sizeable 7-1 lead. The Bombers once again were en route to another win, a 9-5 decision over the Astros.

With his two slams in two days, Posada became the first Yankee since Bill Dickey in 1937 to homer with the bases loaded in consecutive games. Ironically enough, Dickey was also a catcher.

A Bittersweet Home Run

On Aug. 22, 2010 vs. the Seattle Mariners at home, the Yankees practically had the game won in the fourth inning. Austin Kearns hit a solo homer in the fourth, which was pretty much all the offense the Bombers needed because CC Sabathia was in shut-down mode, setting down the Mariners hitters one by one.

The game turned into a stinker for Seattle in the fifth when Robinson Cano clubbed a grand slam. The Yanks added three runs in the sixth to distance themselves even further from Seattle, who did not put up any runs in the game.

The Mariners eventually called on Brian Sweeney, a relief pitcher whom I have interviewed, in a mop-up situation.

Posada came to the plate to face Sweeney and took his changeup for a ride into the right field seats, giving the Yankees a 9-0 lead. The Bombers would add another run in the eighth on an RBI single off the bat of Marcus Thames, winning by a knockout score of 10-0.

For this writer it was bittersweet. I was happy for Posada; that he hit a home run for my favorite team, yet at the same time I was unhappy and I felt bad. I would have liked to see Sweeney maybe get a strikeout, being that he and I both came from the same college.

From the experience, I can say this: it feels weird wanting to simultaneously root for both the pitcher and the batter.  

The Last Stand

2011 was a rollercoaster of sorts for Posada. There were ups and downs, lefts and rights. He was removed as the Yanks’ everyday catcher and made to be the team’s designated hitter. Everyone knows about the mountain made of the molehill when he took himself out of the game on May 14 against the Boston Red Sox, and he was limited at best when it came to playing.

On Aug. 13, his first start since the benching incident, he was 3-for-5 with a grand slam and six RBIs. It marked the 10th slam of his career and with it he passed Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra on the all-time Yankee grand slams list.

Later in the month on Aug. 25 Posada played second base for the first time in his career, fielding the position in the ninth inning. He recorded the final out in the Yanks’ 22-9 win over the Oakland Athletics, cleanly taking a grounder and completing the 4-3 putout.

He might have had a perfect frame at second base, but on Sept. 10 against the LA Angels he returned to familiarity. Russell Martin was injured behind the plate by a foul tip and Francisco Cervelli was unavailable to catch due to concussion-like symptoms. Girardi had no choice but to allow Posada to catch – and he made it count, throwing out Howie Kendrick attempting to swipe second base in the third.

The Yankees made the postseason for the 16th time in Posada’s career and for his last playoff series, he performed extraordinarily well. He recorded six hits – one of which was a triple – scored four runs, drew four walks, and at the DH position notched a .429 batting average with a .579 on-base percentage.

Not bad for his last hurrah.

The Yankees and their fans will never forget Jorge Posada. He spent his entire career in pinstripes, somewhat of a rarity these days; not a lot of players in this day and age remain with one team their entire career.

Girardi, who has always been close to Posada, credits him for a lot of the strength the Yankees showcased throughout the years.

“He’s been a big part of the Yankees since really 1997, and (a big part of) the success that we’ve had here.”

Truer words were never spoken.

Friend and teammate Derek Jeter once said Posada would make a great baseball manager someday.

Who knows. Posada succeeded Girardi once in his life – as the Yankees’ everyday catcher. Maybe in the future he will succeed him as Yankee skipper.

I’m not going to try and argue right now about whether or not Posada is worthy of the Hall of Fame. It doesn’t matter to me; whether he makes the Hall of Fame or not, he’ll always be a real Yankee soldier in my eyes.

Yankee Yapping would like to thank Jorge Posada for all the memories and congratulate him on a wonderful career. I don’t know if the team will be the same without him, but nonetheless, we love him.

THANK YOU, JORGE.

True Colors: Athletes and Expression of Self

Famed martial artist and actor Bruce Lee once said, “Always be yourself, express yourself, and have faith in yourself. Do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”

One could say any professional athlete is successful at what they do. If they were not, they wouldn’t be where they are. Whether it is starting shortstop for the New York Yankees or starting quarterback for the New York Giants, pro athletes are where they are because of their capabilities.

But what about their personalities? Should they be allowed to express themselves on the field after they accomplish something or reach an achievement?

A lot of critics these days are saying no.

When Joba Chamberlain was first called up in the summer of 2007, he was a flame-throwing middle reliever who tossed fastballs clocked in the high-90s and he sometimes struck triple digits on the speed gun. Usually after he fanned a batter to end an inning Chamberlain would wildly pump his fists in pride as he gleefully marched off the mound.

     

Fist pumping is defined as, “A celebratory gesture in which a fist is raised before the torso and subsequently drawn down and nearer to the body in a vigorous, swift motion.

The fist pump is sometimes carried out in parts of the Western Hemisphere, Europe, and Japan (where it is known as guts pose) to denote enthusiasm, exuberance, or success and may be accompanied by a similarly energetic exclamation or vociferation. The gesture may be executed once or in a rapid series.”

Knowing that, a big strikeout can call for a little fist pumping.  So why exactly did critics jump all over Chamberlain and call him on his jubilation, turning his joy into a topic of debate?

Some analysts and sports pundits suggest that getting overly excited and expressing it is a way of “showing up the other team” or in other words rubbing it in their faces after they have failed to some capacity.

I don’t happen to see it that way. I see it as a player simply being honest and outwardly showing how they truly feel after they have done something noteworthy.

And it can work both ways. When a player is on the other end of it – losing – should they be allowed to express it?

I think so.

Think back for a moment to Oct. 16, 2003: Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, otherwise known as the famous “Aaron Boone game.”

When Boone crushed that home run in the 11th inning sending the Yankees to the World Series – and broke the hearts of every fan in New England – the Red Sox were, for the lack of a better term, crushed. I specifically remember the reaction of one Boston player, namely outfielder Trot Nixon.

On his way to the clubhouse, Nixon took his frustration out on a Gatorade cooler, picking it up and then slamming it to the dugout floor in what looked like unadulterated anger.

Nixon and every other Red Sox player were well within their rights to be frustrated in terms of the outcome of that game and the series overall – and they had the right to express that frustration after it was all over.

These days expression in sports has gone to a new level. Looking outside the world of baseball for a minute, ESPN and every other form of sports media seem to be on the case of a young quarterback by the name of Tim Tebow.

After the Denver Broncos’ stud scores a touchdown, or when his team wins, he takes a knee, bows his head and offers a prayer of thanksgiving to God. In fact, the pose has taken on a life of its own and people have turned it into a verb: “Tebowing.”

Everyone and their mother has put Tebow under the microscope and criticized him for this particular pose after a TD or a win. Tebow let it be known when he played football at the University of Florida that he lives his life a certain way (I.E. he has chosen to remain chaste until he gets married) and strongly holds onto what he believes in.

Is it wrong of him to show it when he does something good?

In my view, no. I think it is perfectly fine.

If Tebow feels taking a knee and praying is how he wants to express his happiness when his team wins, I see nothing wrong with it. In fact, I view it as a more civil way to show a good feeling when something positive happens.

A lot of people have made claims that, because it’s a sort of religious action, it’s wrong and should not be permitted. But it’s not as if Tebow is constantly projecting his beliefs onto other people; he isn’t standing on the sideline with a microphone in hand and trying to get every fan who attended the game to convert to Christianity.

If that were the case I’d be opposed to it – and probably feel Tebow is out of his mind.

What I find strange about the criticism of Tebow expressing his faith is that other athletes also express their faith – yet nothing is said about it, or even mentioned.

Before Derek Jeter steps into the batter’s box, he makes the sign of the cross. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, a one-time Yankee and journeyman catcher always makes the sign of the cross; as a matter of fact, he crosses himself before every pitch during his at-bats.

Where is the barrage of criticism and religious outrage directed at Jeter and Pudge?

Nowhere to be found. It just doesn’t sound very fair to me.

All Tebow is doing is expressing his true personality and incorporating it into what he loves to do – just as I incorporate my personality sometimes when I write these blog entries, with funny inside jokes and obscure references.

As good as it for an athlete to show off their personality, it can get out of hand. It doesn’t happen so much in baseball, but in football and other sports it can certainly be brought to a whole new level. The NFL has banned touchdown celebrations, and if a player crosses the plane, scores, and expresses it, that player’s team will be penalized.

In my view, that’s fair. It’s fine for a player to be happy, and to express that positive energy when they score a touchdown; maybe leap up and bump their teammates’ chests. But spiking the ball and dancing around just makes the player look like a fool, and the NFL did the right thing by outlawing such unprofessionalism.

Perhaps in football things are a little different because there is more contact and physicality; maybe more “heat of the moment” moments. But that’s not to say it hasn’t happened in baseball.

In 2007 former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon began to exhibit a different side of himself when he Irish step danced at the conclusion of the American League Championship Series. After Boston defeated the Cleveland Indians in seven games, Papelbon danced around the Fenway Park infield like a loon celebrating the win.

There was no need for that. It’s fine to be happy and celebrate a pennant, but do it in the clubhouse with your teammates. There is no reason to run back out onto the field and commence dancing like a ballerina.  

The bottom line is, it’s fine to express yourself as an athlete. Be creative and be yourself; incorporate your personality into your playing style and do it in a respectful, professional manner.

If you’re excited, pump your fists.

If you’re mad, body slam a cooler or two.

If you have a certain belief system, feel free to show it, without projecting it onto to others.

If you want to dance though, become a Rockette not an athlete.

It’s OK to wear your heart on your sleeve.

Nova Not AL ROY, Finishes Fourth

Today Major League Baseball announced the American and National League Rookie of the Year Award winners. Atlanta Braves’ closer Craig Kimbrel captured the N.L. award, winning unanimously with all 32 first-place votes.

The A.L. ROY went to starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson of the Tampa Bay Rays, as he received 17 first-place votes. Mark Trumbo of the Los Angeles Angels came in second place and Eric Hosmer of the Kansas City Royals finished third.

Ivan Nova, who most Yankee fans expected to be the first Rookie of the Year since Derek Jeter in 1996, finished in fourth place with just one first-place vote.

Cue the anger and confusion among the pinstripe faithful.

Truthfully, any one of the top four A.L. ROY finishers could have taken home the accolade. Hellickson, Trumbo, Hosmer and Nova each had seasons worthy of the award.

Since the last two A.L. Rookie of the Year awards have gone to pitchers (Andrew Bailey of the Oakland Athletics in 2009 and Neftali Feliz of the Texas Rangers in 2010) I had the feeling either Hellickson or Nova would win this year – keeping the trend of pitchers winning the A.L. ROY.

Naturally I felt Trumbo (left field, first base) and Hosmer (first base) weren’t going to win – although each of them put up outstanding offensive numbers for rookies. Trumbo clubbed 29 homers and knocked in 87 runs, despite sporting a .254 batting average. Meanwhile Hosmer smacked 19 home runs and drove in 78 runs, nearly hitting .300 with a BA of .293.

But as expected, the pitching trend kept up.

Hellickson made 29 starts for the Rays and went 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 189 innings pitched. His won-loss record may not have been indicative of an overpowering season. Yet serving as a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher, Hellickson helped the Rays in a major way – especially considering they had traded away Matt Garza, a hurler the Rays thought to be a front-line starter, at the beginning of the year.

Nova struggled a little bit at the beginning of the season. He got shelled and lost some tough games in the early-going, but found a way to persevere and endure, grinding his way to a 16-4 record in 28 starts. He finished with an ERA of 3.70 and notched 98 strikeouts in 165.1 innings pitched.

Looking at overall individual stats – minus the record – Hellickson did have a numerically stronger year. Plus, that brief period when Nova was sent down to the minors in July probably hurt his chances at the ROY.

Yet, look at Nova and how he evolved throughout the course of the season; how he was slated to be a number four starter and was basically forced to become a number two when Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett faltered.

Nova was forced to “carry the ball” so-to-speak, and he carried it very well.

Last week About.com published an article revealing who should win each end-of-the-year award, who the dark horses were, and who they thought would win. Not only did this article say Nova should win – but it said he would win.

“Who should win Rookie of the Year: Ivan Nova of the New York Yankees.  

The 24-year-old Dominican righty finished 16-4, and did it while filling a gaping hole in the rotation of one of the best teams in the league. His ERA is just a so-so 3.70, but has a 2.7 WAR, which is solid in a relatively weak crop of rookies, at least statistically this season.

Who will win Rookie of the Year: Nova. Being in the big market will put him over the top.”

The author of that article seemed to have a lot of faith in the Yankee rookie – and not that I pay that much attention to WAR, or wins above replacement, but it was a good point – one I didn’t even take into consideration.

Those who vote for the end-of-the-year awards, AKA the baseball writers, clearly recognized Nova for his effort and what he brought to the Yankees – but in a lot of the fans’ minds, they did not recognize it enough because he didn’t finish first.

Lately the Yankee fans seemingly have a lot to be upset about when it comes to these awards after every season. Last year many felt CC Sabathia – who won 21 games – was robbed of the A.L. Cy Young when Felix Hernandez, who only won 13 games, captured the award over the Yankee ace.

What’s more, Robinson Cano was a front-runner to take home the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award in 2010, but he came in third to Josh Hamilton (the winner) and Miguel Cabrera (first runner-up). I know of more than one Yankee fan who truly felt Cano was, in a word, “shafted.”

The last Yankee to collect a meaningful end-of -the-year accolade: Alex Rodriguez, when he won the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award in 2007. To get there, A-Rod had to crush 54 homers, bat .314, and drive in 156 runs.

It’s a little obvious by now the writers who vote for the awards aren’t exactly Yankee lovers, and the media has apparently become somewhat “anti-pinstripe.” Cano and Curtis Granderson are two Yankees that can easily be considered for this year’s A.L. MVP, which will be announced a week from today on Nov. 21.

Now that Nova did not win Rookie of the Year, I don’t expect either Yankee to win the award.

Sabathia is up again for the Cy Young with his 19 wins this season and 3.00 ERA – but forget it. Everyone already knows Justin Verlander (24-5, 2.40 ERA) of the Detroit Tigers is taking home that piece of hardware.

The Yankees may have run out of luck this year when it came to the awards. Like it or not, the media is not on the Yanks’ side and ultimately they choose who goes home with the trophies.

If I ever make the Baseball Writer’s Association I promise to be fair and unbiased, as all writers should be. If I were voting this year, I probably would have given Nova a first-place vote, simply because he was valuable to the Yankees – and you can’t argue that. Just look at the points made in the About.com article.

Just know that if I ever get to the BBWA, there will be at least one writer who doesn’t hate the Yankees on the voting panel – although I would maintain my professional integrity as a reporter and consider every candidate respectfully.

As a Yankee fan though, I can only hope next year Jesus Montero breaks out and has the year of his life. If he can get his game up and have a “coming out party” of sorts in 2012, he can avenge this rather unfair treatment of Nova in this year’s A.L. Rookie of the Year voting – at least unfair in the minds of the majority of the Yankee fans.

On second thought, if I did have a vote this year, I would have voted for this guy

Just kidding, just kidding.

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